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James Johnsey runs a guide service that exposes anglers to the diverse fly fishing opportunities in middle Tennessee.

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Why Middle Tennessee Gives Montana Fishing A Run For Its Money

Tennessee On The Fly Guides Anglers On A Plethora Of Exciting Rivers Home To Hundreds Of Different Fish Species, Such As Spotted & Striped Bass

The Spotted Bass Wants To Say Hello [Courtesy/Tennessee on the Fly]

When most people think of world class fly fishing they think of going out west to the blue-ribbon streams and rivers of Montana or Wyoming. James Johnsey is working to change that perception. Mr. Johnsey is the owner of Tennessee on the Fly, a guide service that exposes anglers to the diverse fishing opportunities of middle Tennessee.

“The best thing that we have going on in middle Tennessee is simply diversity. We have more game fish species that we can fish for on the fly than most anywhere I’ve ever been. We have world class small mouth fishing, we have world class striper runs and these aren’t small stripers, they are anywhere from 6 pounds to 60 pounds. We have southern muskie, this is pretty much as far south as they live. Also, what the state has created for us with tail waters is some amazing trout rivers, being that we have a year-round growing season, because we are in a southern climate with cool tail waters, these fish have the opportunity to feed 12 months out of the year, whereas out west it was five or six months out of the year. It just so happens these fish grow to enormous proportions. We can also fish year-round”, explained James.

James has lived and breathed fly fishing most of his life. His goal at a young age was to move to the famed trout waters of the west and become a guide, which is exactly what he did. “I was born and raised in west Tennessee and started fly fishing at a young age. I probably had my first fly rod at age nine. I always told everyone, when I could drive, I’m going to move west and fly fish for trout. That’s exactly what I did. When I turned 16 I loaded up all my belongings in my truck and I took off. I started in Wyoming working for outfitters there and eventually moved up to Missoula, Montana to go to the University, and for a summer job I was guiding. As soon as I was out of school, I started working for one of my best friend’s Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula and never really looked back. Two and a half years ago my wife and I decided we had been away from home long enough and we decided to move home to be close to family”, recalled James.

Holding A Musky With A Big Smile [Courtesy/Tennessee on the Fly]
Some Lures Used In Fly Fishing Trips With James Johnsey [Courtesy/Tennessee on the Fly]

While Tennessee may not be nationally recognized for its fly fishing, James believes that it holds no second place to other waters. “Middle Tennessee is a plethora of exciting water for many different species. We started our own guiding service and this will be our second full season working in middle Tennessee. It’s been a blessing. It’s kind of blown up over the last two years and we’ve created a lot of opportunities for people around this part of the world”, James stated.

James love for fly fishing has allowed him to make a living doing what he enjoys. “Probably the thing I love the most is the mystique of being on the water trying our own flies and going out there and successfully using them to fool our quarry. It might be as much of an art to it with different techniques and different presentations you can accomplish with a fly rod that you can’t accomplish with most other tackle. Being out in nature and being able to teach people what is dear to us, which is the resources, the fish, and the outdoors and teaching them the conservation side as well as the art of how to fly fish is rewarding”, James said.

Tennessee on the Fly offers a variety of different experiences for anglers. Their fishing trips offer anglers the opportunity to fish various waters including the Duck River, Buffalo River, Caney Fork River, and Hatchie River as well as several lakes. “If I had to pick a favorite river, it would be the

Duck River. The Duck River is considered one of the richest rivers in diversity in fish species not only in our country, but in the world aside from the Amazon. It has 153 fish species in one river and 52 mussel species. It is considered an ecological hot zone for fish and mussel diversity. It’s a free stone river, it’s a beautiful river that rolls through the Tennessee hardwood hills. It boasts large numbers of small mouth bass, spotted bass, large mouth, stripers, and hybrid bass. It is probably my favorite river to fish, but it is also one of the most technical rivers. I don’t take a lot of people there just because of the difficulty of it”, claimed James.

Fisher And His Dog Are Happy With the Catch [Courtesy/Tennessee on the Fly]
Largemouth Bass Are Abundant In The Hatchie River [Courtesy/Tennessee on the Fly]
Tennessee On The Fly Guiding Service Has Diverse Opportunities For Middle Tennessee Angling [Courtesy/Tennessee on the Fly]

Anglers who book a trip with Tennessee on the Fly are not only provided with angling opportunities, but they are educated on the ecology of the waters they are fishing. Tennessee on the Fly caters trips to all experience levels and welcomes novice anglers. “We are not an on the clock kind of guiding service. We like to keep people safe and informed along with teaching them the different techniques, the presentations, the aquatic insects and the entomology of the water. We have a broad spectrum of anglers. We have beginners which are adults and a lot of children. Most younger anglers are in the 10-12-year-old range that are beginners. A lot of grandparents like to get their grandkids out with us so that we can instill the art of fly fishing with these children. We love to start people off from the beginning when they don’t have bad habits and we can watch the progression over the years. We really get a kick out of that”, explained James.

While James does not provide lodging services, they can recommend places for anglers to stay in the area. “It’s a wonderful fishery. The most important thing that I like to let people know is the amount of diversity that you can have in one trip. The middle Tennessee hills is a beautiful place, it’s beautiful in its own setting”, James said.


Jared Langenegger

A graduate of New Mexico State University with B.S. in wildlife and fisheries science, Jared spent 15 years working in fisheries and parks management. He enjoys camping, fishing, hunting, painting, and wood working. 

Montgomery Bell State Park

Make Sure To Stay At:

Montgomery Bell State Park, which has long been considered the "Queen of Tennessee's State Parks". It encompasses more than 4,000 acres in Tennessee's western Highland Rim. The Four Mile Creek Campground provides 116 campsites.

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